Working Longer Hours Does Not Make You More Productive

Does Working Longer Hours Make You More Productive?

Well, according to Elon Musk, the difference between a ‘manageable’ work schedule and an ‘insane’ one is somewhere between 80 and 120 hours of work per week. “There were times when, some weeks … I haven’t counted exactly, but I would just sort of sleep for a few hours, work, sleep for a few hours, work, seven days a week. Some of those days must have been 120 hours or something nutty.”

Now, Musk said he is “down to 80 or 90” hours of work per week and “it’s pretty manageable.” Well, that simply is not sustainable. At the heart of the matter is sleep deprivation. Working 80 to 90 hours a week could mean working 11 to 18 hours a day, depending on whether you have allowed yourself a weekend. Such a schedule does not leave time for much else, including sleep.

Insufficient rest will severely affect a person’s ability to focus and think creatively. “Sleep deprivation causes cognitive impairment that can lead to dangerous and costly mistakes and accidents on the job,” says Janet Kennedy, a clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor. “It also makes us more prone to illness, depression and anxiety — all of which compromise productivity.”

Working longer hours

Henry Ford Knew a Thing or Two in 1926

In fact, it is a cruel twist of fate that people who regularly put in 80-hour work weeks can often end up less productive than staff members who head home at 5 pm every day. Even Henry Ford knew this decades ago. In 1926, Ford shocked industry leaders around the world when he announced a shorter, five-day workweek for his Ford employees. “Just as the eight-hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the five-day workweek will open our way to still greater prosperity…it is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege,” Ford wrote back then.

And he was right. To his probable surprise, Ford found, though, that taking a day off of the work week actually improved productivity in his factories. It turned out that workers got more achieved in five days than they had previously done in six.

But How Can That Be?

It is a counterintuitive notion to mention today, particularly in a culture that rewards a work-until-you-drop mentality. However, over a hundred years of research on work environments has reached the same conclusion – working more hours with more intensity doesn’t make your work better—it actually makes your work worse.

The fact is, research shows that “every hour you work over 40 hours a week [will make] you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul.”

Working long hours inevitably leads to physical and mental fatigue that reduces creativity and efficiency in performing tasks. When an executive works all the time without time to rest and recharge, virtually all creativity and efficiency is lost, which results in the slow accomplishment of tasks, poor problem-solving skills and many errors of judgment on important aspects of the business.

Generally, working over 40 hours is a sign of poor management, lack of priorities, systems and orderliness both in the workplace and life. Any worker can accomplish more than enough by working between 9 am and 5 pm, Monday to Friday. This is on condition that they work on important things, are well organised and focussed. In other words, eight hours per day for five (or six days maximum) is enough to achieve all your goals, whether you are employed or run your own business.

Longer Hours


You will become less efficient when you feel overworked; stress and exhaustion will lead to health issues, decreased output and costly mistakes. Working in a culture where you do not feel you have to be seen to be putting in long hours to progress up the career ladder will definitely create a happier, more engaged and more efficient you.

How many hours did you work this week? Why don’t you try cutting down your hours next week – and see if you reap the rewards in your productivity levels as a result?

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